Last August, during the COVID crisis, we dared to embark upon a long-dreamed-of road trip from Northern Colorado to Oregon. After a few days driving through Utah and the magnificent California coast, Ashland was our first stop in the state, just 16 miles north of the California border. We found ourselves in the idyllic Lithia Park, a nature lovers’ paradise. We sat on a bench, gazing at the lovely pond, and heard a rustle behind us. A bit startled, I turned to see a mule deer, just five feet away. A woman passing by chuckled at my surprised face. “Oh yes, they are all over the place here,” she said. “They are even walking in town!”
The absolutely gorgeous 100-acre Lithia Park, where I had my deer “experience,” is in the center of town. Yes, relaxed deer wander there freely among dense woods, paved trails, ponds, a beautiful historic fountain and a Japanese garden.
The babbling Ashland Creek runs through the park, flowing from Mount Ashland. Part of the Rogue River watershed, the creek nurtures lush rhododendron gardens, along with a staggering variety of trees such as dogwoods, cedars, hazelnuts, weeping willows, magnolias, maples, Ponderosa fines, Douglas firs, and even two Sequoias.
Lithia Park was designed by the same designer as Golden Gate Park in San Francisco, and in 2014, it was designated as one of the top ten Great American Spaces by the American Planning Association.
Ashland, located near south-central Oregon’s Rogue River Valley, is akin to an oasis … a cozy, well-educated town with tidy, pretty homes and flower-bedecked gardens complemented by a heavy dose of culture, toasted with top-notch vintages from over 100 wineries in the nearby area. Perhaps its biggest claim to fame is the renowned, Tony-award winning, Oregon Shakespeare Festival (OSF), traditionally running from May through October; it is a bit skewed this year due to COVID. Founded in 1935, the festival draws more than 400,000 visitors in three live theatre venues. A large number of restaurants, galleries, and retail stores cater to the thousands of visitors who attend plays each year at the Festival.
The rotating repertory OSF was founded in 1935 by Angus L. Bowmer, and is among the oldest and largest professional non-profit theatres in the nation. The outdoor Allen Elizabethan Theatre was America’s first Elizabethan stage. The Festival typically hosts a company of hundreds. It has presented thousands of plays, and traces its roots back to the Chautauqua movement, which brought culture and entertainment to rural areas of the country in the late 19th century.
This 2021 season will be a combination of onstage and digital performances. The streaming performances will be both new works and productions from the OSF archives. OSF is planning to bring back stage productions this fall, but specific dates will be announced when there is more clarity surrounding gatherings and social distancing guidelines. The festival is not only about Shakespeare; rather, it also hosts new plays, classics and musicals within its rotating repertory. In the full Festival experience, there are also hundreds of artistic engagement events, such as tours, workshops, free events, panels and presentations with directors and artists. Daily, theatre attendees can choose from up to five different plays on three different stages, including the outdoor Elizabethan Theatre, with new options the next day.
Stay at Ashland’s exquisite and perfectly situated Ashland Springs Hotel. It has been restored expertly to its original European grandeur of 1925 with a combination of gothic, beaux-arts and arts and crafts architecture. The 70-room hotel sports a stunning two-story lobby and terrazzo floor and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1978. The Waterstone Spa, adjacent to the Ashland Springs Hotel, offers six private treatment rooms, a naturally lit solarium, a Japanese Ofuro soaking tub, steam and sauna, as well as a duet suite.
With a bustling and picturesque downtown, full of enchanting boutiques and independent bistros with riverside outdoor dining, along with what must be the cutest little police station I’ve ever seen, Ashland also has several excellent wineries; Irvine & Roberts, Troon Vineyards, RoxyAnn, DANCIN, to name but a few. The robust, wildflower-bedecked, four-mile Grizzly Peak Trail for hiking offers incredible expansive views of the valley below. Ashland features 18 parks, 48 miles of wooded trails, a golf course and many open spaces.
This region is not only an oenophile's heaven, but a gourmet’s as well. Farm to Table melds perfectly with vineyards, and a passionate array of chefs and restaurateurs have made Southern Oregon into a showcase of locally produced dishes and provisions to complement those superb award-winning wines. We found creameries, orchards and farms in abundance, as well as cideries, breweries, and even an extra-virgin olive oil producer. Southern Oregonians demand the finest - organic meats, wild game, fresh seafood and sustainable produce from local farms.
Ashland was blissfully, and rather miraculously, spared from last autumn’s horrific wildfires, and is back to welcoming tourists, Shakespeare lovers, and hopefully, you.